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THE ANTHONY GRIFFITH SHOW : This Comic's Cast of Characters Ranges From Mike Tyson to George Bailey

December 26, 1991|DENNIS McLELLAN | Dennis McLellan is a Times staff writer who covers comedy regularly for O.C. Live!

Shopping for gym shoes the other day, comedian Anthony Griffith just couldn't believe that anyone would pay $175 for Reebok's top of the line shoe, "The Pump."

"I feel if I have to pay $175 for some basketball shoes," Griffith says, "those shoes should be able to play basketball without me. . . . I should be able to drop them off at the gym and pick 'em up later: 'Did we win?'

"Another expensive brand are Air Jordans. Kids literally beg their parents for Air Jordans. You see them in stores everywhere going, 'Mama, I got to have Air Jordans! I gotta be like Michael!' . . . 'Well, until you bring home $3 million like Michael, I'm taking your butt to Payless!' "

Whether he's talking about his cross-eyed mama, Michael Tyson or a kid begging for a pair of sneakers, Griffith, who's headlining at the Brea Improv, has an engaging knack for taking on a character's persona.

That's especially evident when, at one point in his act, Griffith pauses. Then, with a slight stammer, he delivers this familiar piece of dialogue:

"W-W-W-Why, Burt . . . Nick . . . Ernie. It's me, George. It's George Bailey. I'm alive! B-B-B-Burt, remember when Potter tried to buy you out, you came to Bailey's Saving & Loan for help? . . . "

He waits a beat, then says: "That was my version of 'It's a Wonderful Life.' Colorized."

Griffith, born and raised in Chicago, was a college theater major when he first tried his hand at stand-up eight years ago: "I thought it would be something fun to do, without really thinking I'd be in it this long."

The years on the road have begun to pay off: In 1989, he was the Johnny Walker Comedy Search champion; In 1990, he was a finalist on "Star Search" ("I was two minutes away from the hundred grand, then I lost . . . because I didn't want the money to ruin me.") The same year he made his debut on "The Tonight Show" and he's currently co-starring on "The Young Comedians Special," which is airing this month on HBO.

A polished and likable performer, Griffith has a flair for impressions. He does, for example, a send-up of Jesse Jackson: "What people fail to understand is that I have been fighting for people for a long time. When Adam and Eve were removed from the Garden of Eden, I was there to provide affordable housing!"

In his act, however, Griffith prefers to focus on personal experiences.

"I try to start with a base of truth," he said. "I'm not really the type of comic who would say I broke up with my girlfriend the other day if it wasn't true. I guess when I leave the stage people should know about Anthony Griffith."

Indeed. Here he is on . . .

Growing up in Chicago: "We didn't have a lot of money when I was growing up, and that used to make me feel sorry for my younger brother because he was always given my hand downs. He never had anything he could call his own. Even his childhood pictures were old pictures of me."

His wife's pregnancy: "The labor only took 30 minutes. It was like giving birth to a Domino's Pizza."

His acting career: "I majored in theater at college, but my school would only put on plays like 'Oklahoma!' 'Annie Get Your Gun'--plays in which I couldn't really showcase all my talent. I just got tired of saying things like, 'Mo' biscuits, sir?' "

Why he was happy to leave Chicago: "At the time I left Chicago, every 12 seconds a crime was being committed in the city, which was scary. Especially to me because that meant every 12 seconds I was a suspect."

Who: Anthony Griffith.

When: Thursday, Dec. 26, at 8:30 p.m.; Friday, Dec. 27, at 8:30 and 10:30 p.m.; Saturday, Dec. 28, at 8 and 10:30 p.m.; Sunday, Dec. 29, at 7 and 8:30 p.m.

Where: The Improv, 945 E. Birch St., Brea.

Whereabouts: Take the Lambert Road exit off the Orange (57) Freeway and go west. Turn left on State College Boulevard and right on Birch Street. The Improv is in the Brea Marketplace, across from the Brea Mall.

Wherewithal: $7 and $10.

Where to call: (714) 529-7878.

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